Our raw story
In the winter of 1999, Annie started to get sick. At least my mother and I thought so. Everyone else thought we were crazy. She was getting really thin and she was getting married — two events held culturally in high esteem and two events that frequently coincide. Mom and I knew better. There was something strange and out of character with her weight loss; she was eating way too much to be getting that thin.
As the engagement became a wedding and the radically altered dress got worn, others began to echo our sentiments. A very close friend of Annie’s approached me at the wedding reception expressing real concern. “What is going on with her? Is she okay? She looks so exhausted. She looks like she has just climbed Mt. Everest. I feel like I need to stand really close to her, in case she starts to fall.” Finally others were beginning to see.
And so she married and honeymooned and rehabbed and worked and moved and gained lots of weight almost overnight — 60 lbs in 60 days! Within one year of her marriage I got the Saturday afternoon call that she felt like something was attacking her body. She felt like she was dying. The two income newlyweds became a single income struggling couple almost overnight.
Tests soon confirmed the something attacking her body — a half-dozen serious and intractable parasites. We went into overdrive with doctors and treatments. Nothing worked. Irritable bowels quickly became advanced colitis and then full perforation; she weakened rapidly; her pain levels were horrific; she couldn’t process any foods; she was in a full-scale immune cascade. Heavy hitters at world-class hospitals dismissed her saying no one in this country got this sick with parasites.
Her husband and I took her to lots and lots of doctors, both traditional medical doctors at facilities like the University of Chicago and Northwestern and every form of complementary physician as well: Chiropractors, Naprapaths, Osteopaths, Naturopaths, Doctors of Chinese Medicine, Acupuncturists, Homeopaths and a few too weird to even list. One and all they did their best for her. She had some small victories, but for the most part she lived the next seven years of her life in and out of bed, but mostly in.
She remained married, had miscarriages, lost her career, went a hundred thousand dollars into mostly medical debt; finally divorcing a decent man, setting him free from the hardship of being her spouse, and then she made a change that healed her health and her life and mine as well. And that’s because a wise physician, who along with me was at the end of her rope with Annie’s intractable condition suggested that she check herself into the Optimum Health Institute (OHI) in Austin, Texas, where she would be carefully transitioned to a Living Foods diet over a period of 21 days.
We had no idea what that meant, and it was way outside the budget, but a soon to be ex-husband paid for the first week (yes, there is still gallantry), OHI awarded her a scholarship for the second week and finally a lady of tremendous means and a very famous name paid for her final week saying, Annie, I just know if you complete this program you can heal the world. And that is just what we intend to do. Yes we, I was her first recipient of the gift of living foods.
Annie came home from OHI 18 pounds lighter, still somewhat shaky, arms laden with lots and lots of books and well on the road to full recovery. She moved in with me and we began our new raw life, and believe me in the beginning it was raw. The day I packed up all of the beautiful bake ware and cookware that I had spent a lifetime accumulating, I sat in my yard and cried. I did not want her to know how hard all of this was for me. As the months wore on, I complained more vocally about this drastic new lifestyle and I stopped hiding any of my frustration from her. My cookbooks went onto shelves in the basement and my kitchen shelves began to fill with new books and new names like Victoria Boutenko, Dr. Gabriel Coussens, and Matthew Monarch; chefs like Julianno, Jennifer Cornbleet and Matt Amsden. A lifelong reader, I threw myself into the written materials out there for raw foodists — a label that was consistently being applied to my sister and I. Actually, we were being baptized into a new religion altogether — overnight we had become Vegangelicals.
Annie began to heal and so did I. The long list of intractable parasites that nothing could clear from her body and that had ultimately begun to move into her brain, perforated her bowel and made all eating and digestion impossible were no longer showing up on blood tests. Damage to her tendons from synthetic antibiotics that had been prescribed for her began to heal. Her beloved YOGA was once again a possibility. Hobbies that had fallen by the wayside began to resurface; her long absent knitting began to find expression in projects so stunning that people were buying hats and scarves off her as she stood in line in the grocery store, her cart laden exclusively with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and yes, cat litter. One day in the grocery store she bumped into a close friend she hadn’t seen in a few months who did not return her bright hello. The friend did not know who she was! Her brittle hair had changed color to a glistening soft brown and it began to curl. She started to wear new and different colors as her skin color began to change and brighten. And after almost a decade, she began to read again, stacking up every book I had read in ten years and talked about and loved. Every book she had been too foggy, sick and exhausted to read. She read them all. Oh and yes, she got really thin.
I began to change as well. Ten years older, and considerably heavier, my first weeks as a raw foodist were miserable. I was not in the safe confines of a healing facility as the detoxification process began to kick in. I still had a pretty sick sister to take care of and I was running our business (of all things a healing center!) still largely by myself. Before my body began the gradual and steady weight loss that is one of the many gifts of a living foods diet I packed on 15 extra pounds eating raw foods. I wanted to scream! I had not gone into this process ignorant. For years I had been steering clear of glutens and white flour and sugar. My coffee was organic; I ate very few animal products; I did Naturopathic cleanses every spring. I had completed a 3-week medically supervised cleanse while Annie was at OHI — one recommended by my doctor of integrative medicine. Dr. Oz himself would have blessed my food choices. But none of that prepared me for the impact of 100% RAW. I was confused and frustrated and missing the so-called healthy foods I had eaten all my life. They had not served me well, leaving me at age 50 over 100 pounds overweight, arthritic, aching and immobilized with fibromyalgia, and showing early signs of cataracts — a full scale inflammatory mélange of health complaints. No, they had not served me well but oh how I missed them and oh how I complained — my kingdom for a bowl of brown rice or gluten free spaghetti. But I persisted. Finally, after a local raw restaurant owner suggested colonics and juice fasting to address my raw weight gain, the program began to kick in. Three colonics and three days of strained juice fasting and the new 15 were gone. It had begun. Each and every week I dropped 1 to 2 pounds, and I wasn’t exercising at all! What I was doing was eating living foods, reading everything I could get my hands on about the Living Foods Movement and watching my body and my life go through a profound and positive change.
However, I was still a somewhat crabby raw foodist when I went to my eye doctor with headaches. My physician thought the best first response to the headaches that had grown steadily worse since becoming a raw foodist was to see an eye doctor. He and my chiropractor had ruled out other possible causes, so to the eye doctor I went. I remember the Optometrist gently patting my hand as the exam began, explaining that what with my age and THE CHANGE and all I most likely needed a stronger prescription and possibly a second set of glasses to wear when I was working on the computer. In advance of the exam I told him I was eating radically differently than I ever had before and was wondering if that could be affecting my vision. Not likely was his response. He completed the exam, popped the lights back on, made some notes and calculations on his pad and then turned to me and said, what is this new diet again. I explained that it was not a diet at all; that I plainly and simply was no longer cooking my food so that all of the vitamins and minerals and enzymes would remain intact. I told him that I no longer ate any animal products so that the mucous they formed would clear from my digestive track and allow its absorptive function to return. I told him that I was losing weight steadily and that I didn’t ache anymore, but most importantly I had my sister back, fully restored and vibrant.
Mary, he said, I have never seen anything quite like this. I need to weaken your eye prescription a tremendous amount. I can’t imagine how bad a headache you must be having from walking around in someone else’s eyewear because at this point you are wearing the eyeglasses of someone much older than you. It was at this point he explained to me that for quite some time I’d had lots of inflammation in my eyes and early stage cataracts, attributed by him to my advanced thyroid disease. And now all signs of the cataracts were gone! Actually all inflammation in my eyes had healed. He made up my new lenses that very day and within one hour of wearing my new lenses for my new younger eyes the headaches were gone and have never returned. I was hooked on raw foods.
In very short order, my thyroid prescription had to be lowered as well, to an increment so small that all that was left was to go off of it entirely. My chiropractor, who I was now seeing less and less often, told me that my spine was quickly becoming unrecognizable to him. He is an accomplished raw foodist of many years and a real proponent of the gift of raw foods. Everywhere I went I was meeting more and more ex-raw-foodists, all making the same claim that it was the best food program they had ever followed but that ultimately they had found it to be too rigorous and had given up. Each and every time though they said that their health problems had slowly crept back with the return of cooked foods into their lives. I began to realize that we all love our heritage foods, the macaroni and cheese, the Irish stews; but now I had a fuller understanding that if we are going to continue to embrace the survival foods of our heritage then we are going to have to embrace the diseases that come along with them; in my case that meant cancer, heart disease, arthritis, stroke and obesity. I knew there had to be a better way.
To that end, Annie and I started teaching classes in Living Foods at a small cooking school in our neighborhood. We took on this big problem 12 students at a time. We radically shifted the focus of the small healing center to focus exclusively on living foods and our ever-expanding product line. We have been blessed that our classes always have waiting lists and clients from other areas of the city are providing venues for us to take our show on the road.
What distinguishes us from the Living Foods work of the well-known Chicago raw foodist Karyn Calabrese is that we are not that good looking. We call our curriculum A STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS and we give down to earth guidance on how to make the switch and how to not join the ranks of former Living Foods enthusiasts. We do our best to keep the food simple and our clients successful.